Spicy food, napping in the afternoon, getting socks for Christmas – there are loads of things you probably used to hate as a kid but love now you’re older (the taste of beer/wine, going clothes shopping, your formerly-annoying little brother!) Cross country running is something that may fill your mind with dreadful memories of being yelled at by your PE teacher as you battled the wind and stupidly steep hills. However, there are several reasons to exorcise those demons and give it another try. Here’s why cross country can be strangely enjoyable.
Running Cross Country Makes You A Better Runner and Stronger Runner
Running on soft ground requires a higher knee lift. Running up hills has various benefits, as detailed in this blog post on the benefits of hill running. Cross country running also makes you mentally tougher; if you can race on the country, racing on the roads is easy.
There Are Plenty Of Different Abilities In The Same Race And You Probably Won’t Come Last
As long as you can run ten miles on the road, you can make it around a standard 9-10k cross country race. It always amazes me to see men and women in their 70s still turning up to slog around the course, often in kit they probably wore in their 30s.
You Can Run Against The Best
Ok so you can enter the London Marathon and say you’ve – technically – run against Mo Farah, even though you didn’t actually see him. However, as cross country races are usually 3-4 laps there is a chance some elite runners could whizz right past you. The British international Dewi Griffiths regularly does local cross country races in South Wales and it’s incredible to watch him glide across the mud. On another occasion I nearly made it to the end of the third lap of a four lap race without being lapped when a Swansea athlete came flying past me – that was Josh Griffiths who was the surprise winner of the British Championships a couple of years later. (nb, not everyone in Wales is called Griffiths.)
Running Cross Country Is Low Impact
Although mud is hard work for your muscles, it isn’t hard work for your joints, which will enjoy a break from the pounding of road running.
Running Cross Country Is Low Cost
Cross country races usually only cost a few quid to enter – so why pay ten or twenty times more for Tough Mudder?
There’s something about the battle against the course and the conditions that unites people in a way road running can’t.
The homemade cake stalls at cross country races are a thing of edible beauty, and they taste soooo good when you’ve really earned them!
There are cross country races all over the country, run by different local leagues. The best link I can give for a list of them all is the Power of 10 Fixture searching tool – look out for ‘XC’ under ‘Type’ or ‘Terrain’ https://www.thepowerof10.info/fixtures/fixtureslookup.aspx
Unless you already have trail, fell or cross country shoes, it’s best to make your first race a nice, dry, early autumn one as you’ll be able to run in trainers. If or when you decide you love it, I would invest in some more specialist shoes. The elites run in cross country spikes but I find fell running shoes give me much better grip, even if they are a little heavier.